Updated June 19, 2021 - 6:57 pm
As the LPGA Tour reached the latter stages of its season last year, Inbee Park’s chances of making the South Korean Olympic team were uncertain.
But the prospect of trying to repeat her gold medal performance while representing South Korea in the 2016 Olympic Games kept the 32-year-old going.
Now Park, who went to Bishop Gorman High School and lives in Las Vegas, is heavily in the mix to make the Olympics thanks to a strong set of performances.
“We were so unsure of how the Olympics was going to go earlier in the year,” said Park, the 2013 LPGA player of the year. “But probably starting (a) couple months ago, I started thinking that probably we’re going to be playing in the Olympics, and I might be playing in the Olympics, so, yeah, the thoughts have been definitely coming in.”
Four others from her home country were ranked ahead of Park in the Rolex World Rankings last October when she began to play again, and each nation is allowed up to four competitors. She then finished in the top 10 six times, including second twice, before taking off for three months.
Park then returned to the tour and won the Kia Classic on March 28 in Carlsbad, California, the first of six top-10 finishes in seven events. That included tying for ninth at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play on May 30 at Las Vegas’ Shadow Creek and tying for seventh a week later at the U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
That run of success elevated Park to second in the standings, sandwiched by countrywomen Jin Young Ko and Sei Young Kim. The team will officially be named June 28 when qualifying ends. The Toyko Games begin July 23. The Olympics were delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The chance to repeat what she did in Rio de Janeiro five years ago is something that has stayed with Park. She inspired her nation, with the TV broadcast drew record ratings despite the tournament not ending until 2:08 a.m. Seoul time.
Her performance was prime-time worthy. Park won by five shots, shooting a 5-under 66 in the final round.
“(The) Olympics is definitely the top accomplishment that I have in my career,” Park said. “It’s just very unique. I mean I have seven major wins but only one Olympic gold medal. That really just makes the difference.”
Park, however, plays with a heavy heart as she tries to get back to that stage.
Her grandfather, BJ Park, died last month at 78 after four years of battling cerebral palsy. He was a major inspiration for her golf career.
“He really loved me and really loved me playing golf. He’s the one who got me into this game,” Park said.
She was able to return to South Korea before his death to say her goodbyes. “That’s really the saddest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said. “But he’s gone to a good place. He’ll be watching me from the sky from heaven.”